by Nikki Nalundasan, UniPro Community Building Intern As members of the Filipino American community, it is our job to be knowledgeable of what is going on in our mother country and to make sure awareness is brought to all disturbing issues. One of these issues is sex trafficking, which is “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.” The Philippines is a popular destination and transit country for men, women, and children who are exposed to sex trafficking and forced labor. It is also a major exporter for these “workers,” while other countries especially the US are major importers. Being in these different countries, these Filipino women live a life in domestic servitude and often face rape and violent physical and sexual abuse. In addition, they are often subject to threats, inhumane living conditions, and withholding of travel and identity documents.
Not only do sex traffickers from the Philippines export these women to different countries, but they also conduct internal trafficking. In the Philippines, people are trafficked from rural areas to urban centers including Manila, Cebu, the city of Angeles and other urban areas. Thousands of victims experience forced prostitution every day in well-known and highly visible business establishments. Child sex tourism continues to be a serious problem in the Philippines with sex tourists coming from all over the world, including the US, to engage in the commercial sexual exploitation of children. In addition to having an established organized crime network, the main causes of sex trafficking are poverty, population growth, and high unemployment rates that lead some parents to see child “labor” as a way to cope with their unfortunate financial situations. Some women who are in similar situations also see prostitution as the only way to make ends meet.
For example, there was a story on ABC news back in February about Arthur Benjamin, a 49-year old man from Texas who owns the Crow Bar near the coastline of Subic Bay in western Philippines. Caught by hidden cameras, Benjamin admitted that he has had sex with underage girls and partakes in their sexual exploitation with foreign older men. His girlfriend was only 16-years old and he said, “She needed a place to stay, I needed a place to do her. I bought a bar for her.” Fortunately, this man has been arrested and his establishment is shut down. However, this is one of the many bars in the Philippines that participate in sex trafficking. It’s really sad that young women like this are forced to become prostitutes just to get by.
Grace Grande, known as a modern-day concubine, is currently dealing with three different legal issues after leaving her abuser, Patricio Antonio, a very well connected and wealthy politician. She decided to be Antonio’s mistress due to her economic burdens and therefore had no choice but to agree to the relationship. Within those few years, Grace faced emotional, physical and sexual abuse. In 2007, she decided to leave him and start a new life with her two sons in Los Angeles, California. However, leaving wasn’t that easy for Grace and now faces issues of extradition (which is the where one country transfers a suspected or convicted criminal to another country), asylum (the ability to stay in the U.S.), and risks losing custody of her two sons. Grace and her two sons have been harassed ever since she has been in the U.S. Antonio is basically doing everything he can under his political power to make her come back to the Philippines where he can abuse her even more.
It’s situations like the Grace Grande case and the acts of Arthur Benjamin that make us, as Filipino Americans, realize that sex trafficking should be put to a stop. Considering all the political corruption and poverty occurring in the Philippines, it may seem impossible to eliminate sex trafficking. However, it is our responsibility to create awareness within our society in order to stop this ongoing problem. These are young women and children who have to sell their bodies just so that they can support their families financially. There are parents out there who literally sell their children to these sex traffickers because they need money. Women shouldn’t have prostitution be their last resort when they are facing financial problems. We should make efforts to improve collaboration between victim service organizations and law enforcement authorities to stop sex trafficking. Being in the FilAm community, we need to recognize the importance of this issue and do something about it. This problem is happening back in our country and our home. Just because these women are thousands of miles away doesn’t mean that their problem isn’t our problem too. As a true Filipino American community, we should be able to support them and help them escape from this disgusting situation.